Thoery of Philippine Education #1: Paradigms on Homework and Readings

This is another of those thoughts I’ve been having for a long time now. Generally sourced from my observations of certain of my classmates during the time I was still studying, and from my observations of present students, I’ve been… bewildered, for lack of a better descriptive term, of how sometimes students seem at odds to make heads or tails of certain non-Math homework, particularly readings.

Case in point: Tuesday night, I overhear Matet (one of our proteges in the Union) having problems with a reading assignment. It seems to be Philo, or at least political philosophy, or at least a discussion of a particular philosophy as applied to a particular context. It is, of course, rather common, for today’s students to find a certain level of difficulty in immediately grasping the abstractions of philo readings; that the authors would couch their terms in somewhat obscure or… exotic terminology adds to the hell the typical student will go through.

Still, I’ve observed students who, regardless of the course (and that course not being Math), end up sighing heavily when confronted with scholarly readings. It could be heavy literature in english class, or a research paper in any natural science, or even required theoretical readings on any Major subject. To my mind, this seemed odd. Although I have myself complained quite often about some reading workloads, I complain on the matter of amount of readings and time needed for completion. Speed reader that I am, even I cannot hope to accomplish a certain amount of heavy reading in an unreasonable amount of time and still understand the damned thing enough to get a high grade. Yet, after the customary bitching, it’s down to work and I rarely complain on the basis of not understanding the text, nor of having difficulty with it.

Yet… Matet tells me that their whole class, in the time it took me to finish their reading in an hour or so, get to Cubao from Starbucks Katipunan, eat a late dinner, and get to St. Luke’s general area, have not even finished half of the reading.

Understand: these are not stupid children. I personally will attest to the high intellectual capacity of the students of their school. And many of those students I have observed with the same difficulty are not exactly what you’d call problem students!

So… what’s wrong?

I believe that its got something to do with the kids’ paradigms, how they approach the issue of their courses, their studies. I’ve noticed that even the best of students sometimes approach studying as a “task”, even “work”, in the sense that any weary shaikujin would approach waking up every morning to punch the bundy and wishing it was their boss’ face they were punching instead. Observe students at play. Observe students who were made by some teaching savvy or strategem of their professors to not view studying as work but as fun and notice the changes.

Here, some examples: Dr. Clemens Sedmak was truly an unknown when his name appeared on the course lists for that sem’s Philo classes. In fact, his class was noted “TBA”, and we found out who was our prof at the first day. Even worse, his class time was in the nearly-Lightforsaken hour of 600 p.m., and at Ateneo’s Bellarmine Hall – 2nd Floor – to boot. Yet, after the first week, none of us skipped his classes. In fact, even if it was raining soooo hard that you could barely see five feet in front of you you’d see students of Dr. Sedmak’s class trudging towards Bel just to attend his class.

Or where have you heard that a whole class – and this was also in Bel Hall – would plead to their professor to continue the class, even for that 10 minutes between the first and second bells? I’ve seen it, in Dax Manacsa’s class.

Or what about students eager to do translations of Canon Law and Vatican II from its Church English to Filipino? Only in Doc Tejido’s class…

Were these professors terrors? Hell, no! But what these professors do was to turn the seeming drudgery of studying into something not only worthwhile but fun. Somehow, these three and others besides, were able to return their late-teen or early-twenty students back to those days of wonder and curiosity, for the yearning to learn not for some grade or diploma but to know, to, well… learn.

Were my classmates “Grade-A” students? Hell, no! Some of them were even what you’d call slackers, or those who’d rather go to a gimmick, or play Magic: The Gathering than attend class. Yet they were there. In fact, Dr. Sedmak’s class would hit at least one day when Ally McBeal would be showing, during the height of McBeal-madness… yet all the girls were there, present, and interacting.

Here’s something a little mor personal: I took Math 11 – College Algebra – four times in college. I graduated from Manila Science High School and I know quantum mechanics. Yet I had to take Ma 11 four times. Indeed, back in high school, my consistent lowest rater was Math. Always been since that disastrous test in fractions back in Grade Six, the one that started my road out of the Top Ten.

Since then, I adopted the thinking that I wasn’t just good in Math. But that’s odd: everyone else in the family is good in Math; heck, my Mom is one of the best accountants alive. In my NCEE, my math aptitude scored higher than – wonder of wonders – abstract reasoning. And, yes, I could understand high-energy physics. I could do the equations from basic newtonian to basic particle physics. But I just couldn’t hack math…

After the second try in Ma 11, I thought I should pass because I had to. Math was killing my QPI, the lone F in a field of Bs and As and an occassional C (heh, heh). Still, I didn’t. It was only on that last try that I not only passed, but learned something and indeed got to like the subject.

Why? Because I wanted to learn Math. This was when I was introduced to the basics of my analytical protocols. I realized I couldn’t advance anymore mentally until I learned at least basic algebra because one part of my mind was not keeping in pace with the rest. The important part, if I wanted to be a Mentat who needed to do calculations at hyper levels. I needed to learn math. I found a reason to need Math. Then, I started liking it. Suddenly, I found myself practically excited to find out the value of X… And soon, I was beginning to visualize N-dimensional fields…

So, therefore, my hypothesis: its a paradigm thing. Students have been conditioned, whether through their or other’s fault, to view learning as drudgery, something that’s a bother, and obstacle keeping them from fun. Most students, even as early as, say, grade I, already forget the wonder they once had as toddlers for all things that are new. The wonder of learning something for learning’s sake. Its in a multiplicity of factors: the teachers for making schoolwork look and feel more like punishment or trials than at least a necessity to be taken seriously, if not as fun; parents, for imposing undue pressure, thus cultivating in the mind of the child that learning = pain and/or anything but fun; the media, whose archetypes suggest that even without learning you can get away with Life simply by being cool, charming, cute or whatever, just not learned. And a host of others, even the students themselves, for a wrong set of priorities or the wrong reasons for taking up a particular course in college. For the life of me, I cannot understand why International Politics majors are complaining and having difficulties in a reading for a Major; so what body of knowledge will they depend on when they’re out there, if they view their theories and concepts, the intellectual foundation of their supposedly chosen craft, with utter disdain?

So, there. Problems with our educaton? Duh. If students don’t consider studying as important, then why are you surprised about the performance level of the Filipino student in the 21st Century?

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